July 15, 2024

Recalls of Imported Foods Are Flawed, a Government Audit Reports

Government food officials are often sloppy and inattentive in their efforts to ensure that contaminated foods from abroad are withdrawn promptly and completely from the nation’s food supply, according to government investigators.

In an audit of 17 recalls, investigators found that the Food and Drug Administration often failed to follow its own rules in removing dangerous imported foods from the market, according to Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The products included cantaloupes from Honduras contaminated with salmonella, frozen mussel meat from New Zealand infected with listeria and frozen fish from Korea that contained the bacterium that causes botulism.

In one case, more than three months passed from the time the F.D.A. became aware of the contamination to the time a recall was initiated. In another case, the lag was nearly a month. In 13 of the 17 cases, the companies that supplied the tainted goods failed to provide accurate or complete information to their customers so that the products could be withdrawn completely, the audit found.

In a response to the audit, David Dorsey, the F.D.A.’s acting deputy commissioner for policy, planning and budget, said that the landmark food safety law signed in January by President Obama would fix some of these problems. For instance, the law for the first time gave the F.D.A. the authority to order companies to withdraw foods suspected of being contaminated. Until this year, the F.D.A. could only ask manufacturers to withdraw suspect foods.

The F.D.A. is studying other ways to improve food recalls, and one possible solution would be to hire contractors to do the work, Mr. Dorsey wrote.

From July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008, the F.D.A. oversaw 40 recalls of imported foods that were so contaminated that the agency deemed them to be an imminent threat. Auditors examined 17 of these recalls, which included seven for salmonella, five for listeria, four for Clostridium botulinum and one for high lead levels.

The investigation found that the government had not followed up with any vigor to ensure that contaminated food imports were withdrawn from the food chain completely. In 14 of the 17 cases, the F.D.A. failed to conduct inspections or obtain complete information about the contaminated products. In five of the cases, the F.D.A. never conducted an audit to make sure the recalls had been conducted at all. In 12 of the cases, the agency’s audit of the recalls was belated and incomplete. And in 13 of the 17 recalls, the agency never witnessed the disposal of the contaminated foods or obtained the required documentation to show that the products had been thrown out.

Audits of the F.D.A.’s oversight of the nation’s food system routinely find the agency’s efforts wanting, in part, the agency says, because its budget for such activities has long been inadequate. And although the new food safety law gave the agency extra supervisory powers, it is not clear how much it will be able to do, given that House Republicans have proposed cutting its budget for protective measures.

On Monday, the F.D.A. released a report suggesting ways to cope with an increasing flood of imported foods, drugs and medical devices. The report recommended that the F.D.A. cooperate with regulators in other countries to ensure safety.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=19e85e9c6e1796128971fea140bd7327

Speak Your Mind